The saying 'it takes a village...' can leave many women wondering, 'who lives in this village? Where is it? Do we call and drop off, or does someone visit?' When in reality, for many, there is no village, and having a baby can actually be a very lonely experience.
New mums can be left reeling from birth and muddling their way through matrescence (the process of becoming a mother) some may wonder what is postnatal depression to check signs, or struggling with their perinatal health with a newborn, not to mention how tricky breastfeeding positions can be. So making friends may not be first priority on their list of things to do in the new world order. And for writer, Jayne, it dropped right off her list when she decided mum friends weren't in her new future...
Mum friends? No thanks
Mum friends keep us going through those early sleepless nights. They share playdates, help out with babysitting, and advise on everything from toddler tantrums to teenage angst. Or so that’s how the narrative goes.
But for some of us, including myself, mum friends are just not that important. Yes, I have no mum friends - and I’m actually really very happy about it.
When my son hit the big 13 earlier this year, it was cause for a big celebration. Sure, he officially became a teenager, but the best part was his choice of birthday bash: a football game with his mates at the local outdoor pitch. That meant I dodged the dreaded two-hour chit chat session with other mums about topics that couldn't be further from my interests. Score one for the football party and my sanity!
While many people find their tribe when they become mothers, especially in NCT groups, I chose not to join one for various reasons. I was working right up until my due date and couldn't see the point in socialising with people with whom my only common ground was impending parenthood.
Despite the crushing loneliness I felt in the early days of motherhood (and I'm not alone, as a survey by the Co-Op found that 32% of new mums experience the same), psychotherapist and anxiety expert Kamalyn Kaur. maintains that making mum friends is one of the best ways to combat isolation.
“You can share stories, advice, and support with someone who understands the physical, emotional, and lifestyle changes that come with being a mum,” she tells me.
“This creates a sense of community and reduces loneliness and feelings of isolation which mums can often experience.” It was for this reason that both my health visitor and mum told me I needed to meet others in my situation. And I really did try to make these mythical mummy friends, but it was very hit and miss for me.
Baby groups were my personal hell. I mean, seriously, who thought having a newborn paint or 'play' a tambourine was a brilliant idea? Attempting to bond with others while my baby was wailing like a tiny banshee wasn't exactly a recipe for new friendships either. Plus, being in those group situations felt like a flashback to school days – you know, where the noisy kids hogged all the pals, leaving the quiet ones like me stuck in the shadows, like Billy No-Mates.
Kamlyn points out that shyness and social anxiety are common factors preventing new mums from forming friendships in these classes. Additionally, the varying developmental rates of children can also create a barrier.
"Your child might have distinct social, emotional, behavioural, or physical needs, making it challenging to connect with parents whose children don't share the same requirements," she explains.
Throughout that challenging baby class phase, I managed to befriend just one person. Interestingly, our friendship wasn't solely based on our kids. We've continued to see each other even without our boys, proving that our connection went beyond the confines of motherhood.
The Peanut app, which connects women going through similar life experiences, reports that 93% of mothers say they feel invisible. I was definitely one of them, and trying to make new friends based solely on our shared motherhood didn't help. I wanted to hang out with my pre-baby pals, the ones who remembered Jayne before she was a mum. Jayne, the karaoke queen. Jayne, who preferred celeb gossip instead of nappy chat. Jayne, the woman who was more than a mum.
Sometimes I see a group of mum friends and wonder what it would be like to have a mummy tribe. But then I hear from pals about the gossiping in mummy WhatsApp groups, the drama when kids fight, and the competitive parenting trap. And I feel nothing but relief. I'm happy to do parenthood my own way, at my son's pace.
But did I do myself a disservice by not reaching out and making pals with other mums in the same situation as me? Kamalyn assures me that there’s no right or wrong answer to this and that it’s definitely down to who you are as a person.
“The question you want to ask yourself is ‘Am I making mum friends because I want to or because I feel like I should be making them?’” she tells me when I bring up the question of never making mummy friends.
“If your answer is want – then it would be in your best interests to overcome any barriers or obstacles that are preventing you e.g., shyness, logistics, timing etc. However, if your answer is should and it feels more like the right thing to do rather than a want, then it’s best to leave it because the process of making mum friends will become a very stressful and anxiety provoking experience for you.”
Being a mum is hard. Time for myself is as rare as a unicorn sighting, especially with a teenager who speaks in grunts, so, why waste it with people who don't add something special to my life? Sure, some of my old pals have joined the parenting club, and yeah, we bond over the chaos. But our friendships? They go much deeper than that. And then there are those close friends who aren’t mothers. They're people from all walks of life, with different interests and experiences. And that's what I love about them.
Remember, there's no one-size-fits-all approach to friendships or parenting. What matters most is that your choices align with your values and bring you happiness. As long as you are content with your social circle and feel supported in your parenting journey, your choice is valid and entirely your own.
Where can I find mum friends?
There are lots of places where you can get support - that don’t include making your baby shake a tambourine.
- Peanut: Virtual support I found is often as good as face-to-face. The Peanut app offers just that, connecting women going through different life stages from pregnancy to the menopause. It also gives you the option to take these new friendships offline and venture out into the real world. It’s the perfect option if, like me, you find those baby groups a tad overwhelming.
- HomeStart: Families facing isolation, illness, bereavement, or disability can find in-home support from Home-Start, a leading family support charity. I can’t sing the praises of these guys enough. In the early days of motherhood, my son had horrendous silent reflux, making it difficult to go out. A HomeStart volunteer came to my aid, accompanying me to the supermarket, keeping an eye on him while I ran to the corner shop, and helping me get out and about again.
- Family Lives: Formerly known as Parentline Plus, this service provides emotional support, information, advice, and guidance on all aspects of parenting and family life. This includes access to online courses and local groups tailored to your area.
- NCT: If you didn’t do a course pre-baby, it’s not too late to join. I actually did a parenting course when my son was a few months old and it was invaluable. I got to chat with other mums (even if I didn’t make any friends) plus get advice from the NCT leader about everything from sleeping to self care. They have a list of local meet-ups on their site, which also includes Baby First Aid classes and feeding support.
Feelings of loneliness can also be part of postnatal depression. If you also feel overwhelmed and are not bonding with our newborn, it may be worth having a chat with your GP or health visitor to see if they can offer further help.
Remember you aren't alone in feeling lonely as a new mum, even Kate Middleton admitted feeling isolated' as a new mum and if you're struggling with the WhatsApping of mum life check this piece 10 tips on handling the class WhatsApp that could help too.
Parenting advice, hot topics, best buys and family finance tips delivered straight to your inbox.
With over 22 years’ experience in journalism, she’s written about a variety of subjects and is just as at home interviewing A-list stars as she is testing nappies. Having started her career writing about Pokémon, ponies and wrestling, Jayne moved into the world of film journalism, where she spent the next eight years pinching herself while she got paid to interview Hollywood film stars and attend premieres. Since then, she’s launched websites for major magazines, worked with top brands such as Westfield, LK Bennett and Hunter, and had her own tech column in Women’s Own.
What is Leave the World Behind based on?
Everything we know about Leave the World Behind starring Julia Roberts
By Selina Maycock Published
Katherine Ryan hits back at mum-shamers who trolled her over drinking wine while breastfeeding
The comedian does not want your parenting advice
By Charlie Elizabeth Culverhouse Published